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Waiting on God's promises

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Date: November 28, 2021

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Waiting for God

Scripture: Genesis 16:1–16:16

This morning, I am beginning a new sermon series for Advent entitled “Waiting for God.” One of the main themes of this time of the year is waiting for God, as we look back to the long wait for the first coming of Christ, and as we wait in the present for Jesus’ return. Now, we are all familiar with waiting. I’m sure many of you spent some time waiting the past few days. Waiting in long lines. Waiting for a package to arrive. Waiting for the meat thermometer in the turkey to hit 160. Waiting for your family to arrive, or, in some cases, to leave.

 

And on a deeper, more emotional level, many of you find yourself playing the waiting game as well. Waiting for a loved one to find Jesus. Waiting for your physical or mental health to improve. Waiting for a relationship to be reconciled. Waiting on God to change someone else, or perhaps to change you. Waiting for God to answer your prayers offered in tears and in faith.

 

Waiting can be frustrating, painful, heartbreaking, and confusing. It can often lead to questioning. Where are you God? Why are you not answering? Do you care? It’s seen in the cry of the Psalmist in Psalm 13: How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?

 

Advent is a season that is about waiting for God. The grand Biblical story is full of some major times of waiting for God to move. Abram and Sarai waiting for the promised child. The Israelites waiting hundreds of years for the Messiah to deliver them. The disciples waiting for the resurrection, and then waiting again for the Holy Spirit. And finally, believers waiting for the return of Jesus. What do we learn from these stories about how to wait for God, especially when He seems delayed or absent?

 

The first major story of waiting comes from Genesis and the story of Abram, Sarai, and the promised child. Abram and Sarai had no children, because Sarai was unable to have children. They lived in a place called Haran, until one day God spoke to Abram these words:

 

Genesis 12:1-7 - The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.  2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."  4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.  5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.  6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

 

God promises him the land of Canaan, and more than that, promises to give the land to his offspring and to make Abram into a great nation, despite the fact that he is 75 and has no children. But time goes by, the child does not come, and Abram’s doubts intensify. In Genesis 15, God appears to Abram again and reiterates the promise:

 

Genesis 15:1-6 - After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."  2 But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?"  3 And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir."  4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir."  5 He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars-- if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."  6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. 

 

Remember, Abram is 75 when God first promises him that he and his wife will have a son. But ten years later, they are still waiting. Maybe he heard God wrong? And so, his wife Sarai comes up with a plan to make the promised child happen:

 

Genesis 16:1-16 - Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar;  2 so she said to Abram, "The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her." Abram agreed to what Sarai said.  3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.  4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.  5 Then Sarai said to Abram, "You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me."  6 "Your servant is in your hands," Abram said. "Do with her whatever you think best." Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.  7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.  8 And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered.  9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her."  10 The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count."  11 The angel of the LORD also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery.  12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers."  13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."  14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.  15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.  16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. 

 

It has been ten years since God told Abram that he would have a child. Ten years is a long time to wait, especially when you are 85 and still not pregnant. Abram is naturally still full of doubts, and Sarai, having never heard God directly, is even more full of doubt, and so she devises a plan to get a child. Sarai tells Abram to sleep with her maidservant in order to produce a child for them. Although this certainly seems an odd solution, not to mention a terrible idea, by today’s standards, remember that there’s no adoption, no artificial insemination or surrogate motherhood in Abram’s day.  And, since women did not work, their whole self-worth was tied up in whether or not they could have children.  A woman who could produce many children was a blessing to a man, while a barren woman was an embarrassment.  So, if a woman could not get pregnant, one solution was to have her husband produce a child through her maidservant.  Since Hagar belonged to Sarai as her maidservant, any child produced by Hagar and Abram would also belong to Sarai.  So, Sarai reasons, that if Hagar produces a child for Abram, that’s pretty much what God has been promising, right?  Abram would finally have a child, who would be their heir and bring Abram many descendants.

 

Although this certainly may seem like a strange concept and a silly idea, that Sarai might actually believe this could “trick” God, her plan is not as foreign as it may seem. God promises blessing. As time goes by, God does not seem to be following through on that promise. And so, humans take matters into their own hands in order to try to produce the blessing themselves. As a pastor, I’m aware of this tendency. We can play certain kinds of music certain ways, use lighting and mood music to influence people into thinking that they are experiencing the Holy Spirit. I can preach in a certain way. Some churches have been known to have people planted for spontaneous baptisms or to come to the altar in order to pave the way for others. We can use clever marketing and business strategies to make it seem like God is on the move and to try to manufacture His blessing.


We can do try to manufacture God’s blessing in our personal lives as well. Maybe romantically, we try to make something happen. Maybe we try to control or manipulate people into life change instead of giving God the reins to do things in His timing. God has promised to work things for good and to provide but we have a hard time seeking Him first and trusting Him to provide, choosing instead to do it ourselves and calling it God’s blessing. But let Abram’s story be a warning to you. He tried to manufacture God’s blessing, and wound up with a “wild donkey of a man” for a son, one who would cause centuries of strife with his own people. If all you want is the child, and don’t care if he turns out to be a “wild donkey of a man,, then you can find ways of making that happen.  But if you want the child of promise, if you want the true experience of God, it’s going to take faith, waiting for what you can not see.


Let me share three things we need to know about waiting for God:

 

  • Know His promises

 

2 Peter 1:3-4 - His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

 

Listen: sometimes we are trusting in God for something that He has never promised. He has not promised that every person will become a believer, or that life will be easy or that every disease will be healed or that you will be loved by all. Know what He has promised. Here are just a few examples:

 

Matthew 6:33 - But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 

Romans 8:28-29 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

 

Philippians 4:12-13 - I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 

Matthew 11:28 - "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

 

Hebrews 4:15-16 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin.  16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

 

2 Corinthians 12:9 - But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

 

John 16:33 - "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

 

I encourage you to get to know His promises. Buy a Promises of God book, or find them online. Read them in context to know if they are for you or for a specific population. Know what God has promised and what He has not.

 

  • Trust Him to be faithful to His promises

 

2 Corinthians 1:20 - For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.

 

There’s a promise right there about His promises. The promise is that God will follow through on what He has promised. It may not be in your timing, but He will come through, for they are all “Yes” in Christ. To speak the Amen is to agree with God, to say “let it be so,” to trust in Him to fulfill His promises. As we read in Numbers:

 

Numbers 23:19 - God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

 

  • Walk in faithfulness while you wait on Him

 

Yes, God is faithful to His promises. But in all of God’s promises, there is a role for you to play. Go back again and look at the earlier promises:

 

Matthew 6:33 - But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 

Romans 8:28-29 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

 

Philippians 4:12-13 - I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 

Matthew 11:28 - "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

 

Hebrews 4:15-16 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin.  16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

 

2 Corinthians 12:9 - But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

 

John 16:33 - "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

 

His promises do not involve us sitting on the couch. He gives us a role to play – seek Him, love Him, come to Him, be humble, pray to Him, trust in Him. Bring your doubts, your fears, your questions, even your anger, to His throne to find grace to help you as you wait on Him. And He will fulfill His promises.

 

Where in your life do you find yourself in the waiting room, wondering when God will act? I encourage you as we look at the story of Abram, Sarai & the child of promise to know His promises. Trust Him to be faithful to His promises. And walk in faithfulness while you wait on Him.

 

I want to close by telling you a story where I experienced the difference between Ishmael and Isaac, so to speak, the difference between what I could produce myself and what could be experienced supernaturally through God.  When I was the youth pastor at NewLife, we met the second year at my apartment in Manchester.  Things were going great – there were about 20-25 senior high students meeting in my little apartment, but the bad part is that the walls were paper thin, and my neighbors could hear every screaming teen, every beat of the conga and song being sung, and I felt horrible about it.  When the year was nearing the end, I began praying that God would provide a house where we could meet.  I decided to move in with two friends of mine, and we began looking for a house. 

 

I clearly remember sitting down with Dave, one of my two friends, and drawing a circle on the map, telling him that this is where I needed God to provide the house.  I also had other specific things that I felt like God needed to provide – a house with easy access for parents who were picking up and dropping off kids, a big enough room to fit 25-30 kids, and break out rooms for small groups.  And Dave had his request too – a garage for his Mustang.  We looked at a few houses, and it got closer and closer to the day we needed to move.  I was going to be going away on a mission trip for the final week before my lease ran out, so I was feeling the pressure. 

 

Before I went away, we would up looking at a house in East Hartford.  It was just outside of the circle I had drawn, but really close.  It had a loop for a driveway, so it would pretty easy for parents to access.  There really wasn’t a big room to meet in, but there were probably enough rooms in the house to break into small groups.  It was just close enough to being what I had prayed for that I could have rationalized myself into believing that this was God’s provision, just as Sarai had done.  But in the end I knew it wasn’t, so I said no to the house, and left for my mission trip. 

 

On the day before my lease was up, I called home and spoke with Scott, one of my other roommates to be, to see how the search was going.  He told me, “I think we might have found the house – it needs a lot of work, but it might be the one.”  He proceeded to tell me that it was a house that used to be a shop, so it had a big living room with sliding doors between the other rooms on the lower floor.  It also had a parking lot for a driveway, with a 2-car garage.  And, amazingly, it was right down the street from where we were presently living.  In the end, we were able to get our lease extended one day so I could get back from my trip and check it out, and it was obvious that this was God’s provision.  I had resisted the fearful urge to settle for the East Hartford house, and God had indeed come through, providing the promised house, giving me an unforgettable experience of God and his provision. 

 

Let that story and the story of Abram, Sarai & the child of promise encourage you that God is able to do God-sized things if you will have the faith to seek him and wait on him and not try to manufacture God’s blessing through your own strength.  It is my desire that our lives would be characterized by great faith, by experiences that could not be explained apart from God’s presence, and that our church would be marked by that same deep faith and unforgettable experience of God.  Let’s spend time in prayer asking God to act in just these ways I n our church, to give us the courage not to settle for anything less.